Galle Fort’s Ice King

Hand made ice cream in the city of gems

 

 Dairy King is not just a place to eat amazing ice cream but also learn fascinating facts about the fort, the importance of cinnamon and other trivia from the owner Thassim. Legend has it that ice cream took hold originally when Charles I of England was so impressed by the “frozen snow” that he offered his personal ice-cream maker a lifetime pension in return for keeping the formula a secret, so that ice-cream could be a royal prerogative. By WWII, ice-cream was so popular in America that it became something of a symbol for the nation- so much so Mussolini banned ice-cream in Italy for the same reason and yet today nowhere is more famous for its gelato than the ice cream makers of Italy.

Varied and Imaginative

Behind the walls

Dairy King stands out in more ways than one in a Fort made of buildings composed of coral and mud, some that hark back to the 17th century, others from British colonial heyday when art deco was all the rage. Dairy King’s façade in bright flossy pink and powder blue sweeps out of the line of old historic houses with an elegant bay window which is classic Deco with a difference. The colours were intended (like the name of the shop) to be a play on the American brand of ice-cream Dairy Queen, which has red and blue as its colours. Thassim was quite clear that he wasn’t going to be going into a matriarchal monarchy though - it was a case of being a King or nothing!

His family’s ice-creams are legendary and even more varied and imaginative during the tourist season when he and his wife, the ice cream maker, experiment with exotic and unusual flavours (chilli ice-cream is next on their list) than during the quiet season when there is no market for the more experimental ones like bright pink bubble gum. The ice-cream is still made every day fresh by his wife and not stored indefinitely, in fact he has to stop his children eating whatever remains at the end of the day as it is simply so good that the stuff vanishes into thin air. This magical ice-cream secret mix is made at his family home behind the shop using only milk and real cream in the traditional way; this is a man who does things correctly and he says you can really taste the difference between real chocolate and homemade vanilla.

Nature’s cycle

Thassim is part of one of the oldest Fort families who originally lived in Middle Street before he was married, in a magnificent Galle Heritage restored house which is believed to have been the Dutch Governor’s residence. The walls in the 28, Middle Street house (which has been in the family for several generations) are over a metre thick and constructed not from modern bricks but hunks of clay, coral and ballast shells from trading ships, used to prevent tipping over on the way to pick up spices from Galle. Here the ceilings are 20ft high (which causes problems for dusting as you can imagine even the tallest ladder makes getting to the roof a challenge) and the attics are so vast that the Thassim family do not occupy them although I suspect that one could sit up there all day just gazing in awe at the giants of the forests which criss-cross the roof.

The beams surpass all attempts at description - such is their size and their antiquity and it is suffice to say that glancing at them reminds one of one’s own place in nature’s cycle as they are entire trunks of a tree.

Snack dairy king

Though there is a long history of the men in the family working as professionals this was not the only string in their bow. Although his father, two of his uncles, his grandfather and numerous other relatives made their living as lawyers and served with distinction (several members of the family reached the level of becoming Judges), it was also a part-time hobby for the family to pursue a gentlemen’s jewellery business. The reason for this occupation becoming a “hobby” was in part a response to the Muslim tradition of not putting money in the bank to collect interest but rather investing and accruing one’s money by other means such as holding onto valuable stones hidden in secret boxes. The family abandoned their business following the tsunami as they felt that the industry had gone into decline and they hadn’t the interest or energy to reinvest in the premises that were devastated by the colossal waves.

Pinching the stocks

If ever there were a way to sate the effects of the sun it can be found in the freezer in Thassim’s Dairy King shop although its manager admits that you’ll have to get there before his children do as they have developed a knack for pinching from his stocks when he is not there. Such childish acts don’t bother Thassim though and one gets the impression that this is a man who after years in accountancy and the gem stone trade has rather grown tired of money and seeks a more fulfilling life in making people happy. He says as much to me, confessing that part of the reason that his prices are low despite his fine ingredients and generous portions is that he wants both locals and tourists to be able to afford ice-cream, especially the children.

He also places more emphasis on the quality of the customer experience. When he opened his parlour he spotted the chink in the market of restaurants in Galle as none of them served ice-cream. Nowadays this is no longer the case but he doesn’t mind such competition because it allows his ice-cream to stand out due to the quality and delicious range of flavours and style. Thassim does worry for the Fort’s future though. He fears the commercial edge that is taking over the town and the way in which old families have retreated to live in the back of their homes in order to sell goods on the street-front is sad as it destroys the look of these wonderful historic streets.

Dairy King 2

Happy and Relax

“Compared to a life in a town such as this,” he repeats with emphasis, “money is here today and gone tomorrow, happiness is of greater long term value. Galle should be a place to be happy and relax.” And what better way is there to relax than when you are safe in the knowledge that the ice-cream is safe from pilferage due to an iron padlock now on the freezer door. So you can enjoy his cinnamon that will improve your memory, crunchy cashew giving you energy to keep on walking, coconut good for the skin and mint ice cream, along with the chocolate range that are just so naughty but nice…so go on treat yourselves, well at least until his children have learnt the art of lock picking. Thassim will join you in his sitting room that doubles as the parlours eatery and wax lyrical about the days when it was possible to play cricket in the street and when all the houses were occupied throughout the year and not just when their foreign or rich owners came to visit. Thassim says “In Colombo they dress well, in Kandy they are very smart and in Galle well we have always eaten well” and nowhere is this truer than at Dairy King Ice Cream Parlour at number 69A, Church Street, Galle Fort.


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